Memo to "respectable" Republicans: Stop looking for GOP heroes to fight Trumpism from the inside

When traditional Republicans try to appeal to reason within the party, who do they think they are talking to?

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published June 16, 2021 6:00AM (EDT)

Trump supporters near the U.S Capitol on Jan. 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Trump supporters near the U.S Capitol on Jan. 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

People who are afraid often engage in self-soothing behavior such as denial and wishful thinking. Unfortunately, reality is not so malleable as to be bent by such actions.

Barbara Comstock is a "respectable" and "traditional" Republican who served as a member of the House of Representatives from 2015 to 2019. In a recent column at The New York Times, she tries to grapple with the realities of Trumpism and American neofascism's full control over today's Republican Party. Her solution? To try to rally the "good" Republicans to resist Donald Trump's influence and power by having a proper investigation into the events of Jan. 6.  

In "My Fellow Republicans, Stop Fearing This Dangerous and Diminished Man," Comstock writes the following about Donald Trump:

Republicans, instead of opposing a commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6, need to be at the forefront of seeking answers on the insurrection and diminishing the power of QAnon and the other conspiracy theories that Mr. Trump has fueled. While he is still popular within the party, Mr. Trump is a diminished political figure: 66 percent of Americans now hope he won't run again in 2024, including 30 percent of Republicans. He is not the future, and Republicans need to stop fearing him. He will continue to damage the party if we don't face the Jan. 6 facts head-on. Nothing less than a full investigation is essential....

Many Republicans rationalize ignoring his rhetoric: His speech on Saturday wasn't even aired live on Fox or CNN, and he may end up being indicted in New York and occupied with legal and financial problems. So, this thinking goes, what's the harm in humoring the guy a little longer?

The harm is that the lies have metastasized and could threaten public safety again. The U.S. Capitol Police report that threats against members of Congress have increased 107 percent this year. Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican, has noted, "There's no reason to believe that anybody organically is going to come to the truth." Representative Liz Cheney, another Republican, said, "It's an ongoing threat, so silence is not an option."

Comstock continues that her fellow Republicans "would be better advised to fight like Senator Margaret Chase Smith. During the Joseph McCarthy era in 1950, she advised fellow Republicans that the Democrats had already provided Republicans with sufficient campaign issues, and they need not resort to McCarthy's demagogy." She concludes: 

The same is true today. Republicans need to have more faith in their policies and stop being afraid of a dangerous and diminished man who has divided the country and now divides our party. Reconsider the commission, let the investigation go ahead, and run and win in 2022 on the truth.

Her Republican Party (or at least the one she imagined) no longer exists. Today's Republican Party is an anti-democracy, theocratic, neofascist, white supremacist, anti-reasonterrorist organization. Comstock's pleas for sanity are the equivalent of putting a rescue note inside of a bottle and then throwing it into the ocean over the Mariana Trench. No help will be arriving.

Donald Trump is now the Republican Party. Republican elected officials overwhelmingly support Trump's policy proposals and other initiatives and dutifully enacted them. Republican voters are deeply loyal to Donald Trump and the civic evil he represents. The Republican Party's platform in 2016 and 2020 was basically "do whatever Trump wants." In all, today's Republican Party is now a Trump-controlled personality cult: Its leaders and elected officials will continue to do his bidding for the foreseeable future.

Comstock knows that Trump is dangerous but fails to reconcile it with the behavior of her fellow Republicans.

Contrary to Comstock's encouragement and good intentions, Republican elected officials and leaders should in fact be very afraid of Donald Trump and his followers.

Most notably, during Donald Trump's coup attempt and attack on the Capitol, his followers sought out the vice president — chanting "Hang Mike Pence" — along with other "disloyal" Republicans and prominent Democrats. Investigations by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have determined that this was not some type of "political theater" by Trump's attack force but instead a serious conspiracy. If not for the quick thinking of Capitol Hill Police officers on that horrible day (most notably Eugene Goodman), Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, and other members of Congress could have been murdered by the mob.

Last week, the FBI issued a report to Congress warning that members of the antisemitic QAnon cult have been radicalized into right-wing terrorism and represent an imminent threat to public safety. This is part of a much larger pattern: Law enforcement and other experts have been warning that the events of Jan. 6 and other Trump-inspired political violence are a preview of what will likely be several years of a white supremacist and much broader right-wing violent insurgency against the Biden administration and the Democratic Party.

During a speech on Tuesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland reiterated these concerns, warning that, "In the FBI's view, the top domestic violent extremist threat comes from 'racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, specifically those who advocated for the superiority of the White race.'"

As shown by Media Matters, the SPLC, and other watchdog organizations, the right-wing disinformation-propaganda machine media echo chamber has been escalating their use of stochastic terrorism to incite their public — and Trump's followers and other members of the White Right more generally— into committing acts of violence against Democrats, liberals, progressives, "Antifa," "Black Lives Matter," "critical race theory," "cancel culture," "illegal immigrants," Muslims, and other groups deemed to be the "enemy."

These "enemies" also include "disloyal" Republicans who dare to speak out against Donald Trump and his movement.

The Big Lie that Donald Trump actually "won" the 2020 presidential election and will somehow be made president again in August is increasing the likelihood of political violence by Trumpists and other members of his political cult. Again, this violence will be directed not just at the Democrats but members of the Republican Party who are deemed to be "traitors" to "the cause."

There is also a nationwide campaign of violent intimidation by Trump-Republicans and other members of his political cult against state election officials and workers. The goal is to force them to resign so that they can be replaced with Trump loyalists, who will then interfere in elections to help ensure that Republican candidates always win regardless of the actual vote total.

On this, Linda So writes at Reuters how:

Late on the night of April 24, the wife of Georgia's top election official got a chilling text message: "You and your family will be killed very slowly."

A week earlier, Tricia Raffensperger, wife of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, had received another anonymous text: "We plan for the death of you and your family every day."

That followed an April 5 text warning. A family member, the texter told her, was "going to have a very unfortunate incident."

Those messages, which have not been previously reported, illustrate the continuing barrage of threats and intimidation against election officials and their families months after former U.S. President Donald Trump's November election defeat. While reports of threats against Georgia officials emerged in the heated weeks after the voting, Reuters interviews with more than a dozen election workers and top officials – and a review of disturbing texts, voicemails and emails that they and their families received – reveal the previously hidden breadth and severity of the menacing tactics.

Trump's relentless false claims that the vote was "rigged" against him sparked a campaign to terrorize election officials nationwide – from senior officials such as Raffensperger to the lowest-level local election workers. The intimidation has been particularly severe in Georgia, where Raffensperger and other Republican election officials refuted Trump's stolen-election claims. The ongoing harassment could have far-reaching implications for future elections by making the already difficult task of recruiting staff and poll workers much harder, election officials say.

This is part of a larger purge by the Republican Party of those elected officials and other leaders who have spoken out against Trump's coup and other attacks on democracy.

In a new essay at the Byline Times, Catherine Orr, an expert on disinformation and psychological warfare, details the vast network of right-wing funders, paramilitary groups and other extremists who are attempting to overthrow America's multiracial democracy and replace it with a white supremacist neofascist plutocratic theocracy.

Orr's new essay merits being quoted at length:

The Three Percenters and the American Phoenix Project are just one example of how conservative mega-donors hide behind shell companies and conduits to avoid accountability for using their riches to fund extremism, disinformation, and at times violence. Countless more examples exist, many of which were revealed on Jan. 6 and many more of which will be revealed in the months and years to come. 

After all, this is far from over. The same people and groups involved in the lockdown protests, Stop the Steal rallies, and the attack on the Capitol have not gone away, nor has Trump's incendiary rhetoric. With Trump pledging to be reinstalled as President and Republicans continuing to peddle election-related disinformation, there's an endless stream of outrage fodder to fuel future protest movements and, potentially, more attempts to overthrow the government. And there's no shortage of money to fund it. 

Orr concludes with:

As the pandemic fades away and we start returning to life as we know it, we should prepare to face a new normal in which "politics as usual" is anything but. Donald Trump may be out of office, but the forces that put him there are going strong. The Republican Party, controlled by an increasingly extreme base and a newly empowered class of radical donors, is spiraling towards a violent, uncertain future, and dragging the rest of the country down with it.

The last time anything like this happened was during the rise of the Tea Party, which ultimately shaped the modern face of American extremism and paved the way for a Trump presidency. We're on a similar path now, except the center has shifted further toward the extreme right and the extreme right has shifted further towards violence — and an entirely new class of donors has emerged to fund it. 

There is and will be no place for dissent by "principled," "respectable" and "honorable" Republicans such as Comstock and others in such a one-party Republican-controlled pseudo-democracy.

In total, this pattern of right-wing political violence is a major indication that American democracy is succumbing to fascism.

What Barbara Comstock and other "traditional" and "respectable" Republicans are really demanding from their political brethren is courage, which is doing the morally correct and right thing even when one is scared and the consequences from such a choice may be dire.

Today's Republican Party is incapable of such virtuous behavior.

If it were, Donald Trump would never have been president and his neofascist movement would not still be menacing the country.

Ultimately, Barbara Comstock and other like-minded Republicans are looking for courageous people in a den of cowards.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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